Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark create a newer wave

Modern-day souvenir
By MICHAEL MAROTTA  |  March 7, 2011

 Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
TESLA BOYS “It’s been a bit of fortunate timing,” says Andy McCluskey (left, with Paul Humphreys). “Electronic music is fashionable again.”

Over the past decade, one of the mainstays of the summer concert calendar has been the '80s-nostalgia package tour. Take three beyond-their-prime acts and have 'em dust off the ol' one hit that's now rendered them wonders and perform feel-good sets at amphitheaters and parks across the country. Long-time fans call a sitter for the kids, peg their pants the way they did 25 years ago, and laugh as they suddenly remember all the words to ABC's "Poison Arrow."

But a wise man once said that there's no future in nostalgia, and conspicuously missing from these pre-packaged retro tours have been Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The UK duo helped create underground synth-pop before peaking commercially in February 1986 with the elegant romantic-pop hit "If You Leave," off the ubiquitous Pretty in Pink soundtrack. The single reached #4 on the US Billboard chart. The follow-up album, that same year's The Pacific Age, didn't live up to the sudden mainstream fame.

But founding members Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, despite the apparent demand, never milked past glory for an easy paycheck. When the pair re-formed OMD in 2007 — with original members Malcolm Holmes and Martin Cooper — they were apprehensive.

"We had no idea what to expect, we weren't even sure if there was interest or demand," McCluskey says over the phone from England. "We took baby steps . . . and ended up playing 40 gigs. We understand it's one thing to play live all the old songs, but it's another to ask fans to listen to new material."

So as not to be a simple nostalgia act, OMD last year released History of Modern (100% Records), their first album since 1996's Universal. The sound was fresh and succinct, and it fit in alongside classic OMD singles like the bouncy "Tesla Girls," the swirling "Enola Gay," and the groundbreaking 1979 electronic post-punk single "Electricity."

"It's been a bit of fortunate timing," McCluskey notes. "Electronic music is fashionable again, after going out in the '90s when grunge and Britpop were in style. But it's a balancing act. We analyzed our musical output, and Paul and I agreed the first four albums were our voice [the homonymous 1980 debut through 1983's Dazzle Ships]. We didn't want to do something with a retro pastiche, but strike a balance, a modern sound of OMD but not a rehash of the '80s."

And just in time. When Manchester electronic duo Hurts took home Best New Band in the February 23 NME Shockwave Awards, they declared it "a victory for pop music." It was also a victory for bands who paved the way for electronic music, since newer UK acts like Hurts, the Good Natured, and Ellie Goulding are now denting the mainstream with a synthesizer-based electronic-pop template. This is similar to the sound OMD helped usher in three decades ago when breaking into Liverpool dives as a duo with only a bass guitar, keyboard, and tape machine to play drum beats.

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